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Once upon a time, when our nieces and nephews were little, my sister and I made special tiny coloured Christmas cookies for them. On the same day, we would make Vínarterta AND crescents. Yes, we were mad. It was always fun but always completely and entirely exhausting. Especially the coloured cookie part…
T and I now have a two year old niece, who is at just the right age for these tiny Christmas cookies. And I decided that she really should get to have her very own coloured cookies at least once.
But how to get my sister to agree to help me make them….
I introduced the subject when we were making Vínarterta last month – we have finally realized that Christmas baking can be done on more than one day. (Remind me to post about the Vínarterta day!!)
Here’s how the conversation went as we were putting the Vínarterta layers together:
me: Can you believe that we used to make Vínarterta, crescents AND coloured cookies all on the same day?!
she: Unbelievable!! What were we thinking?
me: No kidding!! How crazy were we?! (casually adding as a sidenote) I think I might make coloured cookies this year….
she: Coloured cookies! I LOVE making coloured cookies!
me: You do?! (pause) Do you want to help make them? Even though it’s not your niece?
she: Yes!!! I was hoping you’d say that!
I must say, it takes quite a long time to get through all the dough. We didn’t even have time to play Scrabble! But it was fun. Even T came in at one point and constructed about 10 cookies! Still, we could easily have cut the recipe in half and made half the cookies. (Make a note, E!!!)
The coloured dough eliminates the need for icing as decoration. In the long run, it’s a lot less messy! But because the colouring is done in the dough itself, preparation of the dough is a bit finicky and does require a bit of patience. (In the end, it’s worth the effort!) Before adding all the flour, the dough is divided evenly into 5 bowls. And the food colouring is added to each bowl. Bear in mind that the colours fade somewhat in the cooking as well as that flour will be added afterwards – so the colours can be quite garish. Also, we’ve found that we use much less blue than we do white so after dividing the dough into 5 and before adding the colouring, we take half out of the “blue” bowl and add the extra dough to the “white” bowl. (Did that make sense?!)
After the flour has been mixed in, it’s a good idea to chill the dough for about half an hour before cutting and decorating the shapes. We use the cutters as is or do patchworks with various cutters. I used the “dog” cutter to make rocking horses and to start the elephant. My sister used the “dog” cutter to make the most wonderful pigs. But I think my favourite cookies are the Christmas dinner plates that my sister cuts out free form. I can’t stop laughing when I see them!
Here is the recipe we use:
Note that we used lemon zest instead of orange zest. It didn’t seem to make any difference.
One of these days, I really should make these cookies without food colouring and with butter rather than shortening* to see if they taste better.
Children don’t seem to notice the slightly inferior flavour of these cookies. They not only love eating them but they love making them too. (But it is probably a good idea to go with larger cookie cutters when smaller children are helping.)
* About the shortening… neither my sister nor I are keen to use vegetable shortening any more. (Transfat!!) I consulted the internet about substitutions for shortening:
excerpt from Cook’s Thesaurus…
General notes: Reducing fat will give baked goods a denser texture; to correct for this, try increasing the sugar in the recipe and/or beating the egg whites and folding them into the batter. Also try using a softer flour, like pastry or cake flour. […]
Avoid substituting oils for solid fats when baking cookies, cakes, and pastries; it will make the dish greasy and dense. If you must do so, substitute 3 parts oil for every 4 parts solid fat and consider increasing the amount of sugar and eggs in the recipe.[…]
1 cup shortening = 1 cup + 2 tablespoons margarine
excerpt from Canola Harvest …
Can I substitute oil for solid fat such as butter, shortening or margarine?
Yes. Follow the chart below for substitution quantities.
250 mL (1 Cup)
Canola Harvest® Canola Oil
175 mL (3/4 Cup)
As well as consulting with my sister on this, I emailed both Brilynn (Jumbo Empanadas) and David Lebovitz to see if they had any experience with substituting vegetable oil for shortening. (Many thanks to them for their prompt replies!)
Right up to the day before making the cookies, I was going to insist on making them with oil instead of shortening. And then at the last minute, I chickened out; I went ahead and bought the kind of vegetable shortening with as little transfat as possible. I decided against the organic palm version because personally, I hate the taste of coconut. Any reviews of it state that it does lend a coconut flavour. Using butter was pretty much out of the question because of the concern about all the handling that the dough gets before being baked.
Post about a Christmas cookie from now through December 24th. Please try to send them by December 17th because I will be posting your recipes as I receive them; the earlier you send them, the more likely someone else will see your recipe and try it before Christmas. You can send as many recipes as you like.
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Eat Christmas Cookies posts:
- Coloured Cookies
- Mmmmmm… shortbread
- more cookies please! (ginger shortbread, cheese cookies)
- food for the gods
- cherry snowballs